The Ford Rotunda

The Ford Rotunda – Dearborn, Michigan, photographer unknown

Michigan in Pictures regular Matt passed an email about the Ford Rotunda along that had some cool pictures I thought folks would like to see. When flames consumed a Christmas fantasy from the Detroit News Rearview Mirror begins:

From 1936 to 1962, the gear-shaped Ford Rotunda attracted visitors from around the world. It was the fifth most popular tourist destination in the United States in the 1950s.

The building had its roots in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, known as the Century of Progress Exposition, which opened in May of 1933 and attracted more than 40 million visitors over its two-year run. One of the major attractions at the fair was Ford Motor Company’s Rotunda, which was disassembled after the fair and brought back to Dearborn, where it was reconstructed using more permanent materials. Designed to be the showcase of the auto industry, the Ford Rotunda was opened to the public on May 14, 1936.

…In 1960, the Rotunda ranked behind only Niagara Falls, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, The Smithsonian Institution and the Lincoln Memorial as a national tourist destination. It was more popular than Yellowstone, Mount Vernon, the Washington Monument and the Statue of Liberty.

Read on for the sad tale of how it burned to the ground on November 9, 1962.

Television History – The First 75 Years might be the photographer – there’s some of the same shots there and they write about their parents taking them to see Santa during the Christmas Season at the Rotunda. They also have a nice aerial of how the Ford Rotunda was located in relation to the Rouge Plant.

23 thoughts on “The Ford Rotunda

  1. This plus the cool pics bring back great memories and some astonishment (5th most popular?!). And an idea: why not, as part of the Cobo renovation, convert the Arena’s exterior into a modern replica of the Rotunda look? Its round, too, and nondescript — the “gear” look, on the riverfront, as part of the facility that houses the NAIAS event every year, is perfect.


  2. I was just writing a thank you note for some hockey tickets that I received, telling them that I hadn’t been to a game since the olympia stadium. Then I started thinking about the Rotunda, which was one of the most beautiful buildings that I can remember back then. My memories are great of this building and my parents took me there for Christmas along with the old Murray’s Department store on Michigan Ave. I wish that I could experience this with my grandchildren it was a wonderful time. Why have we not replaced this building, instead we’re raising money for a RoboCop statue!


  3. I’m an old Detroit boy (born and raised) and remember my parents taking me and my sister to the rotunda every Christmas. Remembr the animation and train sets. Loved those little theaters that showed cartoons.


    1. I remember that also. We used to go every Christmas when I was a kid. Me and my Dad saw it burn down that awful day. I was going to be 7 years old the next month. We were in the area because my Mom worked at Ford Motor in the clinic there (she was an LPN) at the Rouge River plant, and we were going to pick her up from work. We were early, and were just hanging out nearby.


  4. Does anyone remember the cartoon about the bears that were sweeping and cleaning. They were singing and dancing to the beat of a song as they bumped their rear ends together.

    My parents took us to see a program around Christmas time and I remember seeing that cartoon. I was wondering if it is available on line. I’d love to see it again. Betty


    1. I sure remember that Disney cartoon – “In the Bag”, which came out in 1956. I saw it at the Ford Rotunda Christmas Fantasy and absolutely loved the cartoon and the Christmas Fantasy exhibits.

      If you haven’t checked Youtube for “In the Bag”, you might try seeing if they have it online. Great cartoon, and I love the song.


  5. I visited Mom (85) a few weeks ago. I said her grandchild had another field trip soon. She got all animated, telling me about my first school field trip. ‘Your class was going to see the Ford Rotunda Christmas. You talked about it for days before going. Next day, the kitchen radio said Ford Rotunda burned down. She and dad were in shock. They didn’t want me in school that day, but our entire family went to Coho Hall Auto Shows.


  6. In 1962 I was working for Continental Insurance Company as an insurance adjuster. I was informed that our company insured the roofing company who caused the fire. This was my first major fire loss.


    1. I was wondering if you could help me? I think I have a photograph that was in the Rotunda (Large Scale) that was hanging in the building. Do you have pictures of the burnt interior damages? I am seeking to prove the photo (According to my grandfather who passed was hanging in the building)


  7. The Rotunda holds great memories for me. My father and mother took my sister and I there every year until 1960. My father had surgery at the VA hospital early that year and a doctor’s mistake left him in a coma for 8 years. I think my father enjoyed the Rotunda more than us girls did. He was always so excited when it came time to go see Santa. The memories from the singing choir, the hundreds of dolls, and the animated scenes will forever be strong in my heart. How sad, when it was destroyed. Thank you Dad!


  8. Was there a little train that took the kids in cars back to see Santa? I remember girls dressed like elves as helpers and the train going behind a black curtain. Was that at the Rotunda?


  9. Herb Lavergne- We left Camp Borden Army Camp Ontario Canada in 1957, I was 18 at the time, I drove our new 1956 Chev hardtop to Detroit to visit my aunt Addie who was a secretary at the Ford Rotunda. On display on the circle first floor was a 1955 Ford Mystere. I remember the cradle phone between the front seats and all of the clear glass, plus the removable stearing wheel. I could not believe my eyes, and never forgot the experience. Am now 78 years old. Been a Ford man ever since. thx


  10. I was very fortunate that my parents took me there several years when I was a kid. Wee Willie Winkie was my favorite exhibit – I was wide-eyed while watching him run out one door and into another. And I loved seeing Santa – and this was the REAL Santa Claus.

    I have never seen a Christmas exhibit since then that has even come close to wonder and beauty of the Ford Rotunda Christmas Fantasy. I still wish it would be recreated.


  11. I was born a few years after the Rotunda burned down and frankly i had never heard of it before however as a “Ford man’ all my life i have ran into rotunda specialty tools Ford made in the 60s and 70s to work on their cars, i assume they named these specialty tools after this building?


    1. Carlos re my message above under herb lavergne. i am now 83 years old and still kicking.
      the pictures of the mistere is available on computer.


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